Diane Douglas

State Superintendent of Schools Diane Douglas is quietly changing the way and extent that evolution is taught in public schools.

The state’s top school official is trying to downplay – and in some cases remove entirely – references to evolution in the standards of what students are supposed to be taught in Arizona high schools.

Superintendent of Public Instruction is proposing to eliminate requirements that students be able to evaluate how inherited traits in a population can lead to evolution. Replacing that last word would be “biological diversity.’’

Elsewhere, Douglas seeks to repeal language that student develop the understanding of how “adaptations contribute to the process of biological evolution.’’ Instead that verbiage would read “how traits within populations change over time.’’

And a reference to the “mechanism of biological evolution’’ would be supplanted with “change in genetic composition of a population over successive generations.’’

The word “evolution’’ would remain in some other places, though it would specifically be referred to as a theory.

But It isn’t just the idea of evolution that’s on Douglas’ hit list.

The standards crafted by the committee had said students should be able to analyze and interpret “supporting evidence for the Big Bang theory and the scale of the universe.’’ That verbiage is gone, replace with the more generic “theories related to the scale and expansion of the universe.’’

But Douglas told Capitol Media Services this isn’t her attempt to replace the teaching of evolution with “intelligent design.’’ That essentially is a theory that life is too complex to have evolved at random and must be the product of some specific design, presumably by a higher power.

“We have absolutely nothing in these standards in reference to intelligent design,’’ she said.

The changes have drawn particular concern after a local TV station unearthed an audio recording of Douglas from last November where she was speaking at an event for Republican candidates.

“Should the theory of intelligent design be taught along with the theory of evolution? Absolutely,’’ she said.

Douglas said Monday she was simply giving her personal beliefs on the issue. And she called reports that she is trying to put intelligent design into the curriculum “fake news.’’

But in those November comments, the school superintendent did not separate out her own beliefs from those of what she thinks should be taught in public schools.

“I had a discussion with my staff because we’re currently working on science standards, to make sure this issue was addressed in the standards we’re working on,’’ Douglas said at the time.

Douglas stressed earlier this week that the word “evolution’’ does remain in the standards, at least in several places.

“But we need to look at it from all sides,’’ she added.

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